Does drinking really quell fear, as its reputation would have us believe? Maybe not. While booze may calm your nerves in certain situations, such as a first date, it may not be of any help at all in the event of an apocalypse, a health scare, or the shower scene in Psycho. Psychologists at the University of Wisconsin recently discovered that getting drunk reduces anxiety but not fear, suggesting that these two emotions are neurologically distinct. Researchers in the study boozed up their young-adult participants with 100-proof vodka mixed with juice, and then induced a series of shocks—both predictable, and unpredictable. When the subjects were unaware of when the shock was coming, they felt anxious over the uncertainty. However, when they were certain they would soon be in pain, they expressed fear. The results showed that alcohol did reduce their anxiety when the shocks were unpredictable, but it did not reduce their fear when the shocks were inevitable. This may explain why people are apt to reach for a drink in times of uncertainty, but are less likely to whip out a flask in emergency situations. However, Emma Childs, coauthor of another recent study on alcohol and stress at the University of Chicago, says that alcohol and stress actually "feed" each other—and that booze "may actually make a person's response to stress worse, and prolong recovery from a stressor." So perhaps, during moments of fear or anxiety, it is better to turn to an alternative form of stress reduction, such as bath salts—the kind you put in a hot bath, of course.
More than 77,000 British drug and alcohol addicts are reportedly receiving disability benefits under the country's historically generous welfare provisions, because their addictions have left them unable to work. New figures show that 34,410 people get Incapacity Benefit due to substance problems, with another 21,890 on Employment Support Allowance—the new form of the same benefit. Still another 21,350 get Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which is a core payment of roughly $120 per week, plus a "mobility payment" of up to $85. And a UK government research paper claims that this is a conservative estimate: “These figures are likely to undercount the total numbers of problematic drug users and alcohol misusers in the benefit system, as people with another medical condition or disability with drug use or alcohol misuse as a secondary factor will not be included.” The total number of people claiming DLA in the UK is 3.2 million, up from 1.1 million in 1992. The report is political dynamite in the context of the austerity measures taken by the UK since 2010, which cut billions from the government's budget and slashed public services. A controversial law was implemented this spring requiring all addicts on disability to get treatment, or risk losing their unemployment pay. It all adds poignancy to Danny Boyle's salute to the welfare state during Friday's Olympic opening ceremony.
Chris Wolstenholme, bassist in the UK rock band Muse, has spoken candidly about his battle with alcoholism that inspired two songs on the band's upcoming album. The 33-year-old says his addiction got so severe that fellow bandmates Matt Bellamy and Dom Howard were forced to work on their 2009 record The Resistance without him. "Drinking all day every day is pretty bad. It's when you start getting to that point where you realize you can't function without it, where you wake up in the morning shaking and the first thing you do is go to the fridge and down a bottle of wine,” says Wolsteholme, recalling his darker days. “That's how bad it was. I was incredibly unhealthy, overweight, a mess." He also describes the psychological impact of his daily booze habit. "You've got anxiety 24 hours a day, you feel your fucking life's about to end, you're very scared but you don't know what you're scared of," says the bassist, whose father died from addiction at 40 years old. “I'd just turned 30 and it was that realization that if I go the same way I could be dead in ten years." The bassist quit alcohol with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy, and has written his experience in to several songs on the band’s upcoming album: “Save Me” and “Liquid State.” "'Liquid State' was written about the person you become when you're intoxicated and how the two of them are having this fight inside of you and it tears you apart." he says. "'Save Me' was about having the family, the wife and kids and, despite all that crap that I've put them through, at the end of it you realize they're still there and they're the ones who pulled you through."
- Saudi Arabia Bans Smoking in Most Public Places [Associated Press]
- Mexican Army Finds Over 2 Tons of Pot in Cemetery [Fox]
- UK: 77,000 Alcoholics and Drug Addicts on Disability Benefits [UK Telegraph]
- Ye Shiwen's World Record Olympic Swim Raises Suspicion of Doping [Guardian]
- Muse’s Bassist Chris Wolstenholme Says Alcoholism Influenced New Record [Music Feeds]
- Proof: Alcohol Makes You (Look) Dumb [Forbes]
Colombia, which has long reigned as the world's primary coke producer, seems to have lost its crown. The South American country's coke production has dropped an estimated 72% since 2001—including a 25% fall in the last year—according to US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske. So for the first time since 1995, Peru and Bolivia have moved ahead. The Office of National Drug Control Policy says these results "didn’t happen overnight," but reflect "a sustained effort requiring nearly a decade of steady, strategic pressure across more than one administration in both the United States and Colombia." The drop in cocaine production coincides with lower consumption of the drug in the US—evidenced by fewer recorded cocaine OD's and seizures, and a significant drop in positive workplace drug tests. “The results are historic and have tremendous implications, not just for the United States and the Western Hemisphere,” says Kerlikowske.
So will this decline in cocaine production drive Latin America's notorious cartels out of business? It seems unlikely. The US is still ravenous for marijuana—much of it coming from Mexico. And as The Economist's "Schumpeter" blog points out, the cartels will likely prosper for some time yet, due to their flexibility, resourcefulness and willingness to use tactics that are—often literally—cutthroat. A number of factors not enjoyed by large legal multinationals work in their favor, including the ability to dodge tariffs by trafficking illegally across country lines. They're also adept at adapting to shifting markets, claims Schumpter, and have switched their focus to Europe—where demand for cocaine remains high. Unfortunately for the tens of thousands losing their lives to the collateral violence, it seems even a major cocaine recession won't put the cartels out of business anytime soon.
Smoking violations and smoking rates in New York City have drastically decreased in the past ten years, health records show, signally a big success for a 10-year-old ban. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2002 anti-smoking legislation prohibiting smoking inside public places—in addition to last year's ban on smoking in public beaches and parks—has coincided with an 83% decline in smoking violations issued in the last decade. Of the 350 smoking-related violations issued this past year, 33% were in devil-may-care Manhattan, 28% in both Brooklyn and Queens, 7% in the Bronx and just 4% in Staten Island. And here's a big bonus: the proportion of NYC residents who smoke has dropped from 22% to 14%—well below than the national average of 19.3%. Once highly controversial, similar smoking laws have been passed in other regions and countries. Perhaps surprisingly, one country that's paid attention to smoking bans' success is Saudi Arabia. As of today, the Middle-Eastern monarchy implemented a ban in government offices and most public places. It's a timely bid to improve the nation's health: Saudi stats show that the country is the world's fourth largest importer of tobacco and that residents spend about $8 million a day on cigarettes.